Paige Hareb’s childhood dream of being an Olympian wasn’t unique. Her path to finally achieving it, however, could be. Jim Kayes reports.
As a young girl growing up at Oakura, just outside New Plymouth, Paige Hareb was into everything, trying her hand at any sport she could.
Each new sporting adventure came with the hope, the dream, that one day she’d represent New Zealand at the Olympic Games.
But, as she got better and better at surfing, that dream began to fade. Riding waves just wasn’t hip with the International Olympic Committee.
Now, that’s changed.
The best in the business will hang ten at the Tokyo Olympics next year, and Hareb is in pole position to be there with a silver fern on her chest.
“Hopefully,” she says, not long off the plane from Hawaii where she wrapped up another year on the pro circuit.
“It will be a dream come true and a highlight of my career. It will be pretty special.”
Hareb’s easiest route to Japan is through the ASP women’s world championship tour, where she will compete again next year – her eighth year among the elite.
A six-year stint that began in 2009 was followed by three years on the qualifying circuit. This year was her first back on the world tour.
The top four countries in the tour can qualify two surfers each for Tokyo. And with the competition stacked with Australians and American surfers, Hareb is confident that as the only Kiwi on the tour, she’ll make the cut.
She hopes to have Ricardo Christie alongside her in black in 2020, after he surfed his way back onto the World Surf League (WSL) championship tour for next year.
“It’s awesome to have him back on the tour. We’re good mates. We’ve been travelling and surfing for more than 10 years now and it’s cool to have him there,” she says.
It will also give Hareb more opportunities to perfect her golf game, as they played each other in Hawaii last week with Christie walking off the greens the winner.
“He had me on the day,” Hareb admits, before suggesting there’s little between them.
It has been a successful year for Hareb on the water, though, as she won her first tour event in a decade, helped Team World win the WSL Founder’s Cup, and came second at the International Surfing Association World Games.
And she did enough to stay on the world tour – no mean feat, and one that makes life considerably easier as she roams the planet living out of a suitcase and chasing waves.
“The prizemoney on the world tour is the biggest difference. In the qualifier series, if you don’t win the event you’re losing money. It’s why we all shared accommodation and cars, and were always trying to save money,” she says.
And, as of next year, men and women surfers will get equal prizemoney across all elite tour events.
That’s not to suggest Hareb is living the high life on the pro tour. Far from it.
While many of those she competes against travel with a coach, video analyst and often medical staff, she remains a one-woman team.
Her parents, Mike and Fiona, travel to most of her events, but they’re there mainly as supporters, not part-time managers.
“I’m too much of a control freak to not be in charge,” Hareb chuckles.
As good as this year has been, it’s had its painful moments, with Hareb breaking two ribs when she was washed into rocks surfing in Mexico.
She narrowly avoided puncturing a lung, but ended up with fluid on the lung for four days and was off the water for five weeks.
It was her first serious injury surfing. “I’ve broken eight bones in my body but none of them surfing,” she says. Instead, the breaks were from a childhood that saw her play any sport that was on offer growing up in Taranaki.
Hareb enjoyed being part of a team at the Founder’s Cup, riding the artificial waves at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in California.
It’s an innovation she thinks could be of huge help in training.
“You get to practise the same thing over and over, which is hard to do on real waves. It’s like hitting a tennis ball down the line – the line doesn’t move.”
But she’s disappointed the wave pool the WSL is building in Tokyo won’t be used for the Olympics – the organising committee has ruled it won’t be ready and tested in time.
It’s not something she’ll dwell on though, as the Olympic flame burns bright in her dreams.
At 28, she knows she has plenty of years still to come on the world tour, provided she stays fit and in form.
But, as she settles back into home life for Christmas and some time with family and friends, Hareb has very simple goals for when she hits the surf again next year.
“Qualifying for the 2020 Olympics is the biggest goal, but I also want to do better on the world tour. If I do, that helps with the Olympics, so the two go hand-in-hand.”
She’d also like to get through the year without breaking any more bones.